Dear Pastor Gallups, "What does the Bible say about fasting?" - U.Y. - Bagdad


Dear U.Y.,


Fasting means self-denial by going without food for a period of time. Fasting may be total or partial -- avoiding certain foods or eating smaller than normal quantities. The origin of fasting as a religious practice is unclear, but both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible mention a number of instances of fasting for various reasons.


Some of the most common Biblical instances for fasting were for distress, grief, spiritual preparation and repentance.


In both the Old and New Testaments, fasting is seen as useful for humbling oneself as a sign of commitment or repentance and for increasing faith, especially when accompanied by prayer.  However, fasting was not to be considered an end in itself, nor a substitute for obedience to God and living a righteous life.


Jesus said that fasting, like prayer, should be done in private and not for show (Matthew 6:16-18). John the Baptist's disciples routinely fasted according to Jewish custom, but Jesus and His disciples did not. However, Jesus said His disciples would mourn and fast after He had left them (Matthew 9:14-15; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35). We know that the early Christians practiced fasting at least occasionally (Acts 13:3, 14:23, 2 Corinthians 6:5, 11:27).


Despite the tradition of fasting in the Bible, and Jesus' references to it, the New Testament teachings do not require fasting, and neither Jesus nor His disciples made fasting an obligation on the part of the believer. However, a tradition of partial fasting on certain days dates back to the early days of Christianity.


Church teachings and traditions about fasting vary. Many Catholics observe partial fasting traditions during Lent (the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter). Orthodox Christians observe even more fasting days. Most Protestant and New Testament churches do not have any firm rules or traditions about fasting. However, even some New Testament churches have been called to prayer and fasting for certain events and prayer requests.


In short, fasting can be useful and a powerful spiritual experience in one’s walk with the Lord Jesus. However, there appears to be no Biblical requirement on the New Testament Christian to fast. It is a highly personal matter between the believer and the Lord.